Recursion by Blake Crouch

Memory makes reality.

That’s what New York City cop Barry Sutton is learning as he investigates the devastating phenomenon the media has dubbed False Memory Syndrome—a mysterious affliction that drives its victims mad with memories of a life they never lived.

That’s what neuroscientist Helena Smith believes. It’s why she’s dedicated her life to creating a technology that will let us preserve our most precious memories. If she succeeds, anyone will be able to re-experience a first kiss, the birth of a child, the final moment with a dying parent. 

As Barry searches for the truth, he comes face-to-face with an opponent more terrifying than any disease—a force that attacks not just our minds but the very fabric of the past. And as its effects begin to unmake the world as we know it, only he and Helena, working together, will stand a chance at defeating it.

But how can they make a stand when reality itself is shifting and crumbling all around them?

Trigger Warning: Mentions of suicide.

Have you ever had a dream that felt so real that when you woke up you could have sworn that it actually happened? That you lived a whole other life? And now that you’ve woken up, you come to the realization that this is your real life and that other life was only a fantasy?

What if you’re told that the life you dreamt of was a result of FMS – False Memory Syndrome? That despite how real it felt that it was all just an illusion? How would that make you feel? How do you think that would make any one feel?

Continuing in the thread of ‘What if…?’, what if you were told there was a special chair. A chair that allows you to revisit past events? And in revisiting the past, the potential to change the future? Would you sit in the chair? What would you change?

All of these questions – and many more – are posed in Blake Crouch’s most recent book Recursion.

In it, neuroscientist Helena Smith is searching for a way to preserve memories. To allow important moments to be recorded so that they might be experienced again. To save what little is left of her own mother’s mind before Alzheimer’s claims her completely. And while Helena succeeds in being able to record memories, it is when they are played back that trouble starts. Trouble that could potentially change the world as we know it.

I will be blunt dear reader, Recursion is not an easy read. At times it is science heavy and at other times it is emotion heavy. It is however a very good book and one that will leave you thinking long after you have turned the last page.

I absolutely recommend this one to my readers.

The Testament of Loki (Loki #2) by Joanne M. Harris

Ragnarok was the End of Worlds.

Asgard fell, centuries ago, and the old gods have been defeated. Some are dead, while others have been consigned to eternal torment in the netherworld – among them, the legendary trickster, Loki. A god who betrayed every side and still lost everything, who has lain forgotten as time passed and the world of humans moved on to new beliefs, new idol and new deities . . .

But now mankind dreams of the Norse Gods once again, the river Dream is but a stone’s throw from their dark prison, and Loki is the first to escape into a new reality.

The first, but not the only one to. Other, darker, things have escaped with him, who seek to destroy everything that he covets. If he is to reclaim what has been lost, Loki will need allies, a plan, and plenty of tricks . . .

Trigger Warning: Mentions of self harm and references to eating disorders. In one particular scene the main character cuts herself and threatens suicide.

First of all dear readers, for those who do not already know – the Loki in this book (as well as in book 1 The Gospel of Loki) is NOT Marvel’s version. This Loki is the OG Loki, the original version from Norse mythology. He is not Thor’s brother and he is not Odin’s son. He is Chaos incarnate.

And just like he did in the first book, Loki is once again doing what he does best – getting in to mischief. He does find himself on unfamiliar ground though as he finds himself in the modern day. Things like cell phones and pizza both confuse and delight him.

Harris has once again shown her love of the characters because she imbues them with life like few others can. They all have their flaws, especially Loki (though he considers himself practically perfect).

What I really enjoyed about The Testament of Loki was the growth that both Loki and Jumps go through. Jumps comes to accept who she is and what she can and cannot change about herself. To see her blossom from a shy reserved individual to a brave one was lovely. The same can be said for Loki; over the course of the book he learns not to be so self-centered and to actually care for someone other than himself.

My only complaint is how short the book itself is. I would have loved to have seen more of Loki learning about the modern world. As it is, he was only given a very brief time to experience all it’s wonders.

I am told that the end of this book leads in to one of Harris’ older series – Runemarks and Runelight. I have already added them to my list and will be reading them sometime in the future.

Fans of Joanne Harris should of course seek this book out. Same for those who are familiar with the Norse pantheon and the original Loki. For everyone else, go read The Gospel of Loki and then come back to this one.

Artemis by Andy Weir

Jazz Bashara is a criminal.

Well, sort of. Life on Artemis, the first and only city on the moon, is tough if you’re not a rich tourist or an eccentric billionaire. So smuggling in the occasional harmless bit of contraband barely counts, right? Not when you’ve got debts to pay and your job as a porter barely covers the rent.

Everything changes when Jazz sees the chance to commit the perfect crime, with a reward too lucrative to turn down. But pulling off the impossible is just the start of her problems, as she learns that she’s stepped square into a conspiracy for control of Artemis itself—and that now, her only chance at survival lies in a gambit even riskier than the first.

Trigger Warning: This book takes place on the moon, meaning characters are subject to the dangers of space. There are a few claustrophobic moments as well.

When I first read that Andy Weir was writing another space based novel after the popularity of The Martian, I was ecstatic. I read – nay, devoured – The Martian and greatly enjoyed it. Even when I wrote my original review I do not think I gushed enough over how entertained I was by the book.

Oh how I wish I could say the same of Artemis.

Artemis is completely different from The Martian. The main character, Jasmine (Jazz) Bashara isn’t a very likable character. She’s rude and brusque and doesn’t take things as seriously as she should. Something that causes more than one person to snap at her over the course of the book.

Like many small time criminals, she doesn’t consider herself a criminal. She believes she is doing something of a service for the people of Artemis. It is a point she even makes towards the end of the book. And when she takes an offer that ends up getting people killed and she finds herself in over her head, she is still reluctant to ask for help.

While the overall idea of the book was interesting, the actual book itself fell very short. Many of the characters were either insultingly stereotypical or downright annoying, there were far too many dumb jokes, and the entire plot line felt like a mess.

I know there are a number of readers who enjoyed Artemis as much as The Martian. Unfortunately, I am not one of those.

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

Some stories cannot be told in just one lifetime.

Harry August is on his deathbed. Again.

No matter what he does or the decisions he makes, when death comes, Harry always returns to where he began, a child with all the knowledge of a life he has already lived a dozen times before. Nothing ever changes. Until now.

As Harry nears the end of his eleventh life, a little girl appears at his bedside. “I nearly missed you, Doctor August,” she says. “I need to send a message.”

This is the story of what Harry does next, and what he did before, and how he tries to save a past he cannot change and a future he cannot allow.

Trigger Warning: Torture. There are a handful of scenes where Harry is tortured for information. While the author doesn’t go in to explicit detail, there is enough detail that could potentially bother some readers.

If you could start your life over from childhood with the knowledge you have now as an adult, would you do it? What would you change? What would you not change? Such is a question that has been asked over and over again. And such is also the basis of this week’s review – The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August.

Harry August is an ourobouran – a rare and unique person who lives, dies, and is reborn to live their life again and again. He is also a mnemonic – a rarity even among ourobourans – meaning that he remembers every minute of every life.

I am quite unsure how The First Fifteen Lives… escaped my book radar. As a fan of sci-fi and fantasy, I try to keep tab on books that I might enjoy reading. And since starting this blog I have tried even harder to keep abreast of up and coming books in genres I enjoy.

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August hits almost every point. North does a great job in building a world that is both familiar and new. She peppers in real world history adding another layer of believability to the story. The twists and turns that eventually develop are designed to keep the reader’s attention and it succeeds. Her characters are imperfect, not one of them is wholly good or wholly bad. The things they do and the decisions they make, each one believes they are acting for the greater good. Even when such decisions could mean the end of the world as we know it.

One thing that might detract a few readers is that the story isn’t told in a completely linear manner. When we first meet August he is at the end of his eleventh life and we are then taken back to his first life. This jumping back and forth could be a bit disconcerting for some, especially once the plot really starts moving along.

Those who are fans of sci-fi and fantasy like Doctor Who or the movie Groundhog Day should give The First Fifteen Lives… a try. I enjoyed it a great deal and recommend it to my readers.

The Pisces by Melissa Broder

Lucy has been writing her dissertation about Sappho for thirteen years when she and her long time boyfriend Jamie break up.

After she hits rock bottom in Phoenix, her Los Angeles-based sister insists Lucy housesit for the summer—her only tasks caring for a beloved diabetic dog and trying to learn to care for herself.

Annika’s home is a gorgeous glass cube atop Venice Beach, but Lucy can find no peace from her misery and anxiety—not in her love addiction group therapy meetings, not in frequent Tinder meetups, not in Dominic the foxhound’s easy affection, not in ruminating on the ancient Greeks. Yet everything changes when Lucy becomes entranced by an eerily attractive swimmer one night while sitting alone on the beach rocks.

Trigger Warning: Animal death. While it might be considered a bit of a spoiler, I still believe it’s something that readers should be notified of.

Dearest reader, writing this review for The Pisces is probably one of the more difficult ones I’ve had to do. Simply because I wanted to like this book and I was so disappointed.

Not because I don’t like romance novels and not because I don’t enjoy the “chick lit” genre, I’ve read more than my fair share from both. I was disappointed because the main character Lucy was just SO unlikable! She is selfish and self-centered, not caring if her actions hurt any one around her. She is an addict in every sense of the word.

One instance that comes to mind is when Lucy and Theo (the merman) have sex on the couch in Lucy’s sister’s house. Lucy had just started her period and of course some blood ends up on the white couch cushions. Instead of trying to clean the mess up, Lucy simply flips the couch cushions over and thinks no one will notice. But of course her brother in law notices and when called on it Lucy only shrugs.

On the whole, I thought The Pisces was downright crude and base. While there is certainly nothing wrong with a woman exploring her own sexuality, when she does it at the expense of others then something is definitely off.

I’m so glad I didn’t purchase this book like I had intended to and instead borrowed it from my local library. If you are truly curious and want to read it, I encourage you to do the same.

The Trouble With Being God: 10th Anniversary Special Edition by William F. Aicher

A naked priest hangs crucified on the wall of an abandoned brewery – the first in a series of grisly murders plaguing the city of Courtsdale. A recurring nightmare of blood, intimacy and death haunts the dreams of journalist, Steven Carvelle.

Someone stalks the city, and with the inside help of homicide detective, Kevin Miles, Steven investigates – searching for the connection tying the terrifying events together. But as the search unfolds and the murders strike closer and closer to home, Steven soon realizes these killings bear an uncanny resemblance to his dreams. Is it connection? Or coincidence? 

Do we really ever know who we are? 

And what is the trouble with being God?

Trigger Warning: Blood and gore as well as graphic descriptions of murder victims.

I admit, dear reader, that I read all of The Trouble With Being God in one evening. I started reading it, expecting to finish it in a few days like I do with most books but found myself so absorbed by the story that I couldn’t put it down.

Yet as much as I enjoyed the story, I simply could not stand the main character, Steven. I found him incredibly annoying. He is verbally and emotionally abusive to his girlfriend. He is rude and sometimes even mean to those he supposedly calls his friends. Though honestly, the same can be said of almost every other character in the book. Aside from Detective Miles, nearly every other character that plays a part in the story is bitter, selfish, and mean.

What saves the book from being a total dumpster fire is Aicher’s writing. The pacing and prose keep the story tight and suspenseful. It is enough to keep the reader engaged and guessing right up to and past the final page.

The way Aicher ends the story will certainly not appeal to everyone. I personally liked it since not everything in real life ends all neatly wrapped up like in books or movies.

The 10th Anniversary edition comes with additional extras like the original epilogue that was not published with the first edition of the book as well as a new afterword by the author. The afterword was interesting and gave insight in to the author and how his feelings towards the book have changed over the 10 years. The epilogue was worthless and didn’t add anything to the story. Personally, I’m glad it was scrapped.

Fans of Aicher’s books will likely enjoy The Trouble With Being God if they haven’t already read it. For any one else, I encourage them to at least give it a try.

Solaris by Stanisław Lem (Translated by Bill Johnston)

When psychologist Kris Kelvin arrives at the planet Solaris to study the ocean that covers its surface, he finds himself confronting a painful memory embodied in the physical likeness of a past lover. Kelvin learns that he is not alone in this and that other crews examining the planet are plagued with their own repressed and newly real memories. Could it be, as Solaris scientists speculate, that the ocean may be a massive neural center creating these memories, for a reason no one can identify?

Long considered a classic, Solaris asks the question: Can we understand the universe around us without first understanding what lies within?

Solaris, though written in the 1960’s, continues to be a book that is recommended to sci-fi lovers. It is continuously being “re-discovered” by each successive generation. It has been made in to two different films and has been translated in to over 40 different languages. It is considered a masterpiece of writing.

And it left me sorely disappointed.

Despite the accolades, despite the numerous glowing reviews, despite the incredibly interesting premise – I was let down reading Solaris.

I found it boring and tedious. I cannot speak for any other of Lem’s books, but in this one he is quite fond of info dumps. Pages of information that have little to nothing to do with what is currently happening plot wise and do not move the story along one bit. I found myself skimming the pages during these times, trying to get back to the original plot.

Solaris is one of those books that falls in to a difficult category, at least for me as a reviewer. While I personally did not enjoy it, the book itself is still lauded as a classic by so many others. All I can do is give my own opinion and urge my dear readers to also make their own.

alt.Sherlock.Holmes: New Visions of The Great Detective by Gini Koch, Glen Mehn, and Jamie Wyman

Sherlock Holmes and her partner Dr. John Watson have barely set up as consulting detectives in LA before Tinsel Town’s finest come calling.

Joey Jackson and Tony Antonelli are in trouble: their partner, Cliff Camden, has disappeared without a trace on the eve of filming for a new show. The LAPD don’t care and Watson has his own reasons for wanting to stay out of it, but Holmes takes the case. But as she gets to work amidst the neurotic actors, grumbling film crews and low-level sleaze that permeates LA, a fresh murder turns everything on its head…

Winter, and the Soggiorno Brothers’ Traveling Wonder Show has pulled into its berth in Peru, Indiana. Sanford “Crash” Haus, proprietor and genius, and his friend, the retired soldier-turned-surgeon Jim “Dandy” Walker, are looking forward to a quiet few months. By happy coincidence, just as the Strong Man and the Tattooed Lady announce their betrothal, the Wonder Show’s old manager Professor Sylvestri – a minister, no less – rolls into town, with his ward in tow. Preparations for the happy day begin, but violence and misfortune attend on them…

Glen Mehn’s novella is a drug-fuelled descent into the experimental world of Warhol’s Factory. Holmes and Watson are faced with a mystery unlike any other, set against the backdrop of social, cultural and racial issues that rocked society and brought about the fierce (and sometimes violent) changes at the end of the swinging sixties… (via Goodreads)

Trigger Warningalt.Sherlock.Holmes contains subject matter and language that some might find disturbing/offensive. While the language and sentiments expressed are appropriate for their respective time periods, there are some who might find it bothersome. As the stories themselves do not come with any kind of warning, I thought it necessary to put one up myself.

Three different authors, three different versions of one of the most well known literary characters. That is the gift we are given in the book alt.Sherlock.Holmes.

Jamie Wyman is first, giving us a Holmes and Watson (though neither by that name) that sees the two working in a carnival setting in the 1930’s. Watson – known in this story as Walker – is an African American man whose leg was taken by the war. He is a Pinkerton agent when he first meets Holmes – known as Haus here – and subsequently joins the circus.

Personally, this was my favorite of the three stories. Not only with the story line but with how the characters felt when compared to their original counterparts. Haus very much felt like a slightly updated version of Doyle’s Holmes with his penchant for drawing people to him regardless of how they might be viewed by outside society. Seeing him in a carnival setting seems quite natural given his penchant for the dramatic. The same can be said for Walker; a dedicated and knowledgeable doctor who still carries traces of the warrior and fighter he used to be.

My only complaint was how the story ended because it left me desperately wanting more. I can only hope Wyman writes more stories of these two in this particular universe.

Second is Gini Koch with an offering that has been seen before – a female Sherlock Holmes. Set in the modern day, Ms. Holmes meets up with Dr. Watson when she is brought in to consult on a case. She eventually decides to stay in the States where she continues to solve cases.

This particular version of Holmes and Watson, though not unique in setting it in modern day, is unique in how it handles other aspects of the characters. Holmes has a bad habit – something that is not new – it is the habit itself that is. Holmes is addicted to reality TV and she is well versed in all of the different kinds that grace TV screens today.

It is also implied (at least this is how I interpret it) that Watson is bi. It is mentioned that he goes out with a male acquaintance for drinks but his head can also be turned by a pretty lady. It is even hinted that he has a crush on Holmes and she in turn possibly likes him. That these feelings were hinted at and not acted upon is lovely to see and adds a touch of realism to the story.

Lastly, comes Glen Mehn taking Holmes and Watson to 1960’s New York City. Both Holmes and Watson are part of the underground scene of the time. Holmes’ reasons are hazy at best but with Watson we come to understand that his serving in the Korean War has left him disillusioned and he now uses his doctor’s degree to make and sell drugs.

I will be honest dear reader and say that this last version was my least favorite of the three. I found it to be too dark and downright depressing at times. Not to mention the fact that BOTH John and Sherlock and junkies. Also, to try and add realism, Mehn sprinkles in well known people and events from the time – such as Andy Warhol. However, much of this feels forced and I found it detracted from the story instead of adding to it.

On the whole, I found alt.Sherlock.Holmes to be fairly enjoyable. If any of my readers are considering picking up this book in either paperback or e-book edition, my advice is to read and enjoy the first two and skip the third. Have fun!

Provided for Review: The Waking Forest by Alyssa Wees

This book was provided for review by Netgalley. Thank you!

The waking forest has secrets. To Rhea, it appears like a mirage, dark and dense, at the very edge of her backyard. But when she reaches out to touch it, the forest vanishes. She’s desperate to know more—until she finds a peculiar boy who offers to reveal its secrets. If she plays a game.

To the Witch, the forest is her home, where she sits on her throne of carved bone, waiting for dreaming children to beg her to grant their wishes. One night, a mysterious visitor arrives and asks her what she wishes for, but the Witch sends him away. And then the uninvited guest returns.

The strangers are just the beginning. Something is stirring in the forest, and when Rhea’s and the Witch’s paths collide, a truth more treacherous and deadly than either could ever imagine surfaces. But how much are they willing to risk to survive?

First and foremost, I would like to thank the very nice people at Netgalley for providing this book to read and review.

The Waking Forest is a beautiful book. The way Wees writes is very descriptive, evoking emotion with even the smallest turn of phrase. The characters of Rhea and her family are portrayed in a very realistic manner thanks to this. Rhea and her sisters squabble one minute then help each other out the next, something someone with siblings of their own will easily recognize.

The drawback though is that sometimes Wees’ descriptions become too much. The narrative becomes bogged down with descriptive words and phrases and the story itself slows to a crawl.

For the first half of the book, the story is told from two separate point of views – Rhea’s and the Witch’s. As each story is unique with its own set of characters, it’s easy to keep track of who goes where. It is only during the second half when the two stories are combined that things become a little more difficult to follow. Individuals who were sisters in one part now have no relation and the same but different.

Sadly, it is almost impossible to accurately describe the goings on without giving away massive spoilers, so I shall refrain from going further.

In writing The Waking Forest, Wees has created a unique story line. While there are some flaws, overall I enjoyed reading the book and would recommend it to my readers.

The Last Wish (The Witcher #1) by Andrzej Sapkowski

The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski
The Last Wish cover

Geralt of Rivia is a witcher. A cunning sorcerer. A merciless assassin. And a cold-blooded killer. His sole purpose: to destroy the monsters that plague the world. But not everything monstrous-looking is evil and not everything fair is good… and in every fairy tale there is a grain of truth.

A collection of short stories introducing Geralt of Rivia, to be followed by the first novel in the actual series, The Blood of Elves.

Note that, while The Last Wish was published after The Sword of Destiny, the stories contained in The Last Wish take place first chronologically, and many of the individual stories were published before The Sword of Destiny.

Technically, The Last Wish is not the first book in The Witcher series though it is often listed as book one. In truth it was printed after The Sword of Destiny – book three – of the series. However, as the events in The Last Wish take place before The Sword of Destiny, it is put first when listing the books of the series.

Since I have not played the Witcher games before reading the books, I did not go in with any expectations aside from the knowledge that this a fantasy series unlike many on the market today. I’m glad for this because from what I understand, there are differences between the two and I know I would be constantly comparing them.

The Last Wish was originally written in Polish and translated to English, a fact that is sometimes obvious while reading. Because while Sapkowski builds a world that is easily believable, the action and story becomes clunky and awkward at times. And as I do not read Polish, I am relying on the English translation when giving my opinion.

The characters that populate the world that Sapkowski writes of are a diverse sort. There are royalty and there are servants, there are those who are human and there are those that are not. These creatures come from a variety of tales and easily recognizable; vampires, elves, goblins, and gnomes.

What gives realism to the world created is that no one character is perfect. There are no “good guys” and “bad guys”. Every character does what they believe is the right thing; for themselves, for their loved ones, for their city or village. Even the titular character – Geralt of Rivera – does not fall in one particular category. As a Witcher, it is his job to seek out the monsters that plague the people. It is a profession he has trained for since he was a child and it is unclear whether he truly enjoys his work or not.

The Last Wish, as well as the rest of the Witcher series, isn’t your ordinary fantasy series. While it does have the creatures that are common in other books, there is also a darkness and a gritty element that may not appeal to everyone. Those who are looking for some realism in their fantasy will likely enjoy it.